Saturday, July 8, 2023

Boy Soldier Perry Wright, 15th Kentucky & 5th Ohio Infantry Regiments

When I started researching local Civil War soldiers, this was the type of story I never thought about finding. I just had never heard of anything like it in the area, but it makes sense that it was just as likely to happen in Campbell County as anywhere else. That last line is something this project has really reinforced to me, along with a realization of the lack of previous study or sharing of knowledge about the war here. Hopefully I am addressing at least part of that. 

One Campbell County Civil War soldier who encountered some issues because of his youth was Perry W. Wright. He had been born in Ohio in 1846 but lived in Jamestown (now Dayton) in Campbell County in 1860.


After the Civil War started, he may have been infected with war fever, like so many other men and boys throughout the country. He did not act upon it immediately, but on October 10, 1861 finally gave in to temptation and signed up for a three-year term in company H of the 15th Kentucky Infantry, a regiment featuring several other young men with Campbell County ties, telling the military officials he was already 18 years old. He enlisted at Camp Webster in Jamestown, likely a very brief walk from his home.


The 15th Kentucky marched and fought in many of the most famous campaigns and battles in the Western Theater of the war, but in late 1862, Perry’s age and the legality of his service came into question. 


Paperwork in his file describes the issue. 


Perry W. Wright was this day before me this day under a Writ of Habeas Corpus and it appearing that he is a minor under 18 years of age and that he was enlisted without consent of his father who claims his services. He is hereby discharged from the Army of the United States. 


Given under my hand as judge Campbell County Court this 27th December 1862, W.J. Berry, Judge C.C.C. 


(“C.C.C.”  was the Campbell County Court.)

Another form states:


Mr. James P Wright on Petition for writ without of habeas corpus states to the Hon. Judge W. J. Berry of this County Court that his son Perry W. Wright is detained without lawful authority as an enlisted soldier into the 23 (this was a mistake) Regiment of Kentucky Volunteers, that he was taken and enlisted without the consent of any one authorized to give consent and that he was so taken & enlisted before he was seventeen years old, and that he will not be eighteen years old before the 14th March next .


Subscribed and sworn to this 27th Dec 1862 by James P Wright,


WJ Berry, Judge CCC

Despite this note from the courts, at least one military officer had questions about its authority and if the army should honor the request to discharge the young soldier.


Provost Marshall Office, Newport, KY 
March 31, 1863
Maj. Genl. Burnside, Comdg. Dept of Ohio:
I respectfully submit to you the enclosed document which is now presented to me as a reason for the discharge of Perry W. Wright, a volunteer in 15 K.Y. 
 I am not satisfied with the paper for the reasons following:
 1st   The complaint does not charge any person with restraining the party of his liberty.
 2d No person was served with notice to appear and show cause why the soldier was detained nor was such notice received.
 3d Such proceedings are not attested by the seal of any court. 
Shall I hold or discharge the Soldier?
FM Keith, Pro. Mal. Newport & Major, 117 Regt OVI


(The Provost Marshal was  Fordyce M Keith, a major in the 117th Ohio Infantry regiment. The job of the Provost Marshal was to maintain “order among both soldiers and civilians” much like modern military police.)


No other specific information about his case  appears in his file, but other records show that the final decision was to discharge him from the army, which officially happened on February 1, 1864. 

His father had won. 


 Perry still wished for a military career, and, just one week later, on February 8, as he likely was now officially  age 18, he enlisted in company E of the 5th Ohio Infantry Regiment as a private. 


As he joined this new unit, it saw action in the famous Atlanta Campaign, an expedition that would have a major effect on Perry’s life.


On May 25, 1864, he was wounded during the first day of the Battle of New Hope Church in Dallas, Georgia. Perry was one of about 1,665 Union  casualties  during this contest. 


He then spent the next few weeks trying to recover from his wound, but passed away in a hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee on June 15, still barely more than a boy at just 18 years of age.  His body lies in the Chattanooga National Cemetery. 


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